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The Romans Made Fire With A Fire Steel

Fire steels like this were used throughout the Roman and Medieval Periods to set fires when struck against a piece of hard rock such as flint. With a nearby charred material, the sparks could generate an ember and then, with some kindling, a raging fire. As Miriam tells us, the charred fibers on the wick of an oil lamp could be ignited directly from those sparks.

In The Deadliest Thief, Miriam visits her best friend Phoebe’s husband, Bion, in his office behind the scrim in his bookstore:

An orangey stain struggled through the lone east-facing window of his office, illuminating the floating dust particles and spattering blotches of color on the busts of the classical dramatists, poets, and philosophers who peered out from their niches. Two Herodian oil lamps flanked the window, and a fire steel lay on the sill. Bion lit the wicks with the fire steel. Their flames illuminated the lines furrowing his brow as he carried the lamps to the table and placed one near each end. Two hoops of a slickly yellow light met to form a flickering figure eight on the rosewood surface.

Of course, the issue that day for Miriam and Bion was how her best friend Phoebe could have been kidnapped. The answer is brilliantly. No wonder The Deadliest Thief was named a best mystery finalist for the Silver Falchion Award. To watch the book trailer, just click here.


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